Introduction to the FSS Program and FSS Training

MODULE 1.2: What is the Family Self-Sufficiency Program?

What is the Family Self-Sufficiency Program?

The Family Self-Sufficiency Program, commonly known as FSS, helps families increase their earnings and build financial capability and assets.

The FSS program serves:

  • Families in the Housing Choice Voucher program
  • Families living in public housing
  • Families living in HUD-assisted multifamily developments

FSS is a voluntary program for families; a family can choose whether or not to participate in it. Some PHAs are required to offer an FSS program to satisfy a mandate tied to their receipt of housing assistance in earlier decades, while others run the program voluntarily. Owners of HUD-assisted multifamily developments can choose whether or not to participate.

As this video explains, the primary goal of FSS is to help participants make progress toward economic security.

FSS © 2017 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

FSS achieves this goal by helping families to increase their earnings and to build assets and financial capability. This training is designed to assist FSS programs in achieving these outcomes.

What does “self-sufficiency” mean?

The FSS program seeks to help participants make measurable progress toward economic security so that they no longer need welfare programs, are less dependent on rental assistance, and are better able to achieve the goals they set out for themselves and plan for the future.

As this video explains, HUD does not require participants to leave subsidized housing in order to successfully complete the FSS program.

There are two key features to the FSS Program:

  1. A financial incentive for participants to increase their earnings in the form of an escrow savings account that increases as residents’ earnings increase.

    The escrow account helps participants build savings that they can use to improve their quality of life and advance their personal goals. Escrow funds can also help participants pay for key services – such as car repair or employment training – that they may need to make progress toward their goals.

    AND
  2. Case Management or Coaching to help families access services they may need to overcome barriers to employment, strengthen their financial capability, and address other challenges holding them back from achieving their goals.

The Escrow Account

The FSS escrow account is a savings account that the PHA or owner maintains on behalf of the FSS participant. Participants build savings in an escrow account as their earnings increase.

How does the Escrow Account Work?

Families with a Housing Choice Voucher or living in public housing or a multifamily development with a project-based Section 8 contract generally pay rent based on a percentage of their income. When a family’s income rises, the amount the family must pay toward rent also rises. One of the great benefits of participating in FSS is the opportunity to recapture a portion of increased rent through the escrow account.

Deposits to the FSS escrow account occur when the household earnings of an FSS participant increase and lead to an increase in rent. Generally, when this happens, the PHA/owner will deposit an amount equal to the family’s increase in rent due to the increased earnings into the FSS escrow account. The escrow account thus allows FSS participants to build savings over time.

Watch this video for a general, high-level explanation of how escrow works and the benefits of having an escrow account.

For more details on the escrow calculation, see the FSS Escrow Account Credit Worksheet and 24 CFR §984.305(b).

How can FSS Participants Access the Money in their Escrow Accounts?

Once a family successfully graduates from FSS, they may access the escrow funds and use them for any purpose. The requirements for graduation are discussed later in this section.

FSS programs may also allow some earlier disbursements for specific purposes. These so-called “interim disbursements” of escrow are discussed in Chapter 5.

Case Management or Coaching

To achieve their individual goals, many participants will need access to services and educational programs. HUD does not fund services for FSS participants. Instead, HUD funds FSS program coordinators who work closely with FSS participants to help them access services available in the community – a function known as service coordination (see illustration). FSS program coordinators also assess the needs of FSS participants (or make referrals for specialized assessments related to health, education, family dynamics, and other issues), help participants set goals, and provide ongoing support and encouragement to help participants achieve their goals. Guidance on the role that FSS program coordinators play in supporting FSS participants, which is sometimes called “case management” or “coaching,” is provided in Chapter 2.

Common services that some FSS participants may need to achieve their goals include (click the arrows to expand the content):

Individual Goals

An important feature of the FSS program is the establishment, by each participant, of a set of goals that they seek to achieve in the program. In order to graduate from FSS and receive the funds in their escrow account, FSS participants must establish and meet these goals.

While FSS participants may set additional goals, all FSS Participants must at a minimum agree to work toward the following two goals:

  1. For all household members to become independent of income assistance from federal or state welfare programs for at least 12 months.

    The requirement applies solely to ongoing cash assistance. Food stamps, Medicaid, or short-term non-recurring payments are not included.

  2. For the Head of Household to seek and maintain suitable employment.

 

PHAs are responsible for determining what qualifies as suitable employment “based on the skills, education, and job training of the individual that has been designated the head of the FSS family, and based on the available job opportunities within the jurisdiction served by the PHA.”

24 CFR §984.303(b)(4)(iii).

In addition to the two main goals, residents can and should identify other goals.

FSS participants have five years to achieve their goals but can complete the program sooner if they have achieved their goals. If residents need more time to fully achieve their goals, they can request an extension of up to two years for good cause.

Good cause means “circumstances beyond the control of the FSS family, as determined by the PHA, such as serious illness or involuntary loss of employment.” 24 CFR §984.303(d)

Why is FSS an Important Program?

There are many benefits of the Family Self-Sufficiency Program to residents and to your organization. Click the arrows to expand the content.

Hear from other program coordinators and administrators in this video about the many benefits of the FSS Program.

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